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What are Some Different Types of Demons in Mythology?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Demons play an important role in the mythology of many cultures, from the asuras of Hinduism to the tzitzimimeh of the Aztecs. Their universal appearance in religions and cultures from all over the world perhaps speaks to a fundamental desire to understand the nature of evil and the motivation behind evil acts. The mythology of demons is quite complex, with many cultures having unique hierarchies and a number of famous named demons, such as Satan in Christian mythology.

In all cases, demons have supernatural powers, and many cultures have superstitious traditions which are supposed to repel them, ranging from leaving offerings to wearing particular objects to ward them off. Many cultures also have an assortment of friendly and evil demons, although it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference.

There are numerous types of demons. Some, for example, are merely playful earth or nature spirits who enjoy making mischief, while others are classified as tempters who lead people into sin. They may also work in opposition to a deity or deities, or they may assist witches and other evildoers. Some cultures classify them as human, meaning that they are the spirits of the dead, or nonhuman, and demons may possess people to do evil, or act independently.

The most benign sorts are things like imps, sprites, and poltergeists, largely considered to be obnoxious, but relatively harmless, in the cultures where they appear. Many cultures have some form of an imp to explain mysterious happenings, suggesting that these demons simply enjoy toying with people, but they aren't particularly malicious. These types were also features in Greek mythology, and in fact the word “demon” is derived from the Greek word for a nature spirit.

Many cultures have a tradition of demons which act as tempters to lead people from the path of righteousness. Incubi and succubi, for example, appear in seductive male and female forms, and Mara appeared to the Buddha to tempt him. By resisting such tempers, the faithful can demonstrate their commitment to their religion.

Demons may work in concert with people, as in the case of a witch's familiar, and they can also possess people, both voluntarily and involuntarily in many cultures. Demonic possession is a theme in many cultures, with their expulsion being a very profitable profession in some parts of the world. They may also possess inanimate objects according to some religious traditions, causing these objects to become cursed.

Christian demons like Satan work in opposition to God, and are classified as fallen angels. In Christian mythology, they are ranked, with Satan at their head. In Islam, they are known as jinn, and they can benign and friendly, or evil, in which case they are known as devils. Buddhist demons are primarily tempters, while Hindu ones work against the gods. These creatures are also used in many religious to explain natural phenomena, like eclipses, storms, and floods.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon1006665 — On Apr 24, 2022

My daughter is 11 and she keeps on having sightings of ghosts and demons. She woke up at 3 am 1 morning terrified by a man covered in blood with white wings that made a ghastly screaming sound at her and he had black eyes.

By anon321621 — On Feb 23, 2013

The word demon is derived from "daimon" which was used to describe the essence of the soul. Daimons were guiding entities that enlightened people. The church did not like competing with these entities and literally demonized the concept.

By BioNerd — On Jan 22, 2011

Demon possession is common in cultures which worship these demons. In many voodoo traditions, witch doctors are suddenly seized in violent convulsions when summoning their gods for ceremonies and sacrifice. It is strange that these possessions tend to not occur as frequently in more developed countries.

By Armas1313 — On Jan 21, 2011

Demons in the bible are angels who have fallen and chosen to follow the leading enemy. They are said to inhabit this world, and to have been here before us. When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he knew that there were demons on this world, and the encounter with Satan was a sort of probation. Demons are also sometimes said to obey his will in Scripture.

By ShadowGenius — On Jan 20, 2011

A demon can be a recurring monster in a dream which frightens children. Many cultures use the idea of demons and ghosts interchangeably. Ghosts of angry ancestors or dishonored dead people are demons in Taoism. Gods can take the forms of harassing demons in Greek mythology. It is particular to monotheistic traditions to not worship demons, but to see them as enemies of God.

By Proxy414 — On Jan 18, 2011

People like to put a face on everything, including their own guilt or fears. To do this, ancient people chose to invent enemy spirits, or demons. Today, when someone is said to have many "demons," he or she often resorts to alcohol or something else to assuage their inner dogged ambition or regrets. Demons are negative feelings, in this case, from dreams gone bad or thwarted goals.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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